Sleeping CatWhen you venture out of your time zone, there’s a disruption in your sleep patterns. Only an hour difference may make it a bit harder to snooze or to wake up. Leaping across time zones and shaking up your structured day can lead to sleep deprivation. It can muddle your brain and reduce your ability to deal with stress, especially if you upend your routine with a time zone change of several hours, or flip day for night. The effects of jet lag have been dogging travelers forever but new studies show that daily or chronic sleep problems have far reaching and dramatic effects.

Working on a project? When you’re sleep deprived, perhaps you’ve noticed it’s harder to hold onto your thoughts, to reference material, to recall things you were working on awhile ago. Long term memory is hobbled by sleep deprivation. Grey matter density is lost when you suffer from chronic insomnia and tests show that new information can only be remembered for a brief time.

Snoozing can certainly help your immune system, your brain and reduce stress but longer sleep, ninety minutes at least, leads to the most beneficial, deepest rest or REM sleep. Sleep deprivation can be the result of many things and depend on your age. Babies sleep deeply with far greater levels of REM sleep than adults. They enjoy REM sleep about 50% of the time while adults get only about 20%. Just because you may function decently on five hours of sleep doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for your health in the long run.

How to get more sleep when you’re on the go?

  • Exercise – Walk the airport concourse; pull over at a rest stop or park and stretch. Walk fast for at least 10 minutes to increase your heart rate and work tight muscles. Find out if your airport has a walking concourse. Some airports are installing Yoga rooms or meditation rooms where you can stretch.
  • Avoid alcohol close to bedtime – When it wears off in your system, you may suddenly awake or experience thirst and need to get up to use the bathroom, as well as other affects. Drinks with dinner and then give your system a few hours to work the alcohol out. Water helps.
  • Know your caffeine tolerance – Some of us can drink a cup of coffee with dinner and still sleep like a baby, others have to cut themselves off at noon. Either way resist the temptation to grab that latte if it’s past your time!
  • Stretch in bed. If you’re having trouble sleeping or getting to sleep, put a stack of pillows under your knees while laying on your back, or stretch your legs up the wall (scooting your bottom close to the wall) and relax. The weight of your legs into your hips and sacrum melts tension and is sleep-inducing.
  • Nap when you can and wake up gradually. Often when traveling you may find yourself contorting to sleep in odd positions. Waking up and moving slowly will help you avoid kinks and sore muscles. Gradually work your spine, perhaps shifting from side to side and reaching up to get more space through your ribs.

These are just a few suggestions that you can add to your travel tool kit. Laying down on the job might just be the best thing you can do!

Elaine J. Masters, Travel writer, Yoga teacher, Award-winning author of Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga books, audio and classes.

Resources: Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga books and audio

Sleep disorders on WebMD

Dr. Michael Breus on Sleep and the Brain, Huffington Post